Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Freelancing… But Were Afraid To Ask

Freelancing is a job unlike many others. There is often very little certainty with freelancers often living contract to contract. In order to make a career from freelancing you have to embrace the challenges. But, let’s face it, if you don’t like uncertainty then it is probably not the right job for you. But how do you know? Who do you ask if you’re considering going freelance?

Freelancers are usually busy – either working on their current project or actively seeking their next. A lot of the time they’re doing both. Spotlight: Freelance, held at the Bahen Center for Innovation on the University of Toronto campus offered freelancers, both established and new, the chance to find out the answers to many of the common questions about life as a freelancer – and to hear stories from established freelancers.

photo by Helen Kontozopoulos ‏(@helenissocial)

A presentation on the legal aspects of freelancing, which had been slated to start the day, had to be canceled due to illness, so the scheduled jumped to Kevin Airgid.  It focused on one of the most important parts of any freelancers day-to-day life: networking, selling and pitching.  These three skills  help ensure that as one contract comes to an end, another begins.  Kevin, an interactive designer, has built a reputation as a trusted freelancer and works with companies like Disney, Nike, ESPN, CBC and MTV and talked about the importance of reputation.

Kevin explained that reputation was an essential part of freelance success and offered his insight in to how new freelancers can build theirs.  Top of his recommendations was to practice active listening when talking about projects with customers, as well as looking for opportunities to add value, over and above the work that they are asking you to do.

Next up was a session on pricing, lead by David Gillis and Ben Weeks.  It was billed as ‘create approaches’ to perhaps one of the hardest parts of a freelancer’s job – putting a price on the job for an RFP.  The main message was to price on value, rather than per hour and to be honest about the amount of work required.  Pricing should, in many cases, be part of a discussion about scope and, where there is a better solution to a client problem that can be done more quickly [and cheaply] it’s always best to go this route, rather than billing per hour to the brief, only to find that the objectives for the project haven’t been met.

After lunch Kurt Krumme opened the afternoon sessions with a session on getting along with clients.  The accompanying slide deck showed the breadth of photographs of action figures posed in a variety of positions – from Steve Jobs to my personal favourite, Seth Godin riding a unicorn!  Kurt offered some great advice on building relationships with clients – whether working direct with organizations or agency-side.  One of the most important things you can do is to get to know your customers and their businesses and demonstrate that you care about the success of both.

One of Kurt’s most important pieces of advice for freelancers is to never ask whether they like a piece of work – it’s a recipe for disaster.  Instead, Kurt suggests asking, if not literally, if it validates the original outcomes.

The final session of the day was presented by Mark MacLeod, CFO of startup, small business and freelancers’ accounting tool of choice, FreshBooks, which Camaraderie also uses and recommends.  Mark explained the various accounting requirements that freelancers might consider from a solo-preneur, partnership and incorporated company and some simple tips on how to make every entrepreneur’s least favourite part of the job easier.

To end the day, there was a panel discussion (with David Gillis, Mavis Huntley, and Kurt Krumme) on the ins and outs of working with agencies.  While many jobs will be negotiated directly with the end-customer, understanding how to work effectively with agencies is a necessary evil.  True, it means there are, effectively, two clients but done right, it can enable freelancers to work on projects and with organizations that would otherwise be impossible.

Agencies also provide a rich prospecting vein for freelancers – when there isn’t work with one, there are often opportunities with others.  The key is to maintain strong agency relationship, be flexible and play an active role in the success of their projects – after all, keeping their customer happy means you’ll be top of their list when they have more work and need capable, talented and accommodating freelancers to help them deliver it.

Over all, it was a great day packed with a wealth of information for attendees to kick start or ramp up their freelance work. Here’s hoping they do another one with another range of topic diversity or even a day of advanced level sessions.